Bamboozled: Patiently waiting for back pay

Salvatore Gallegos has worked a lot of jobs for the Irvington school district.

Since 1999, he’s served as a bus driver, a boiler maintainer, a painter.

Gallegos received positive annual evaluations every year through 2003, at which time the district stopped such evaluations. He also received several commendations during his tenure.

In September 2009, Gallegos was transferred to a position as a custodian at Irvington High School.

“It wasn’t perfect, but it was work,” the Irvington man said. “I was happy enough to sweep floors.”

A few months later, in December, a new head custodian took over. Gallegos received three complaint letters before the month was over.

In February 2010, he was fired.

Gallegos said the firing was unjust, and that he had a perfect record on the job until the new supervisor was hired.

He decided to fight to get his job back. The battle, in which Gallegos was represented by his union, was slow-moving.

As time passed, Gallegos, 72, needed income.

“I didn’t take unemployment,” he said. “I was old enough to take my pension, so I did.”

And finally, on March 8, 2011, Gallegos went before an arbitrator to plead his case against the Irvington Board of Education.

The arbitrator found in Gallegos’ favor, saying he was fired without just cause. The board was ordered to reinstate him and give him $68,000 of back pay.

Gallegos returned to work in June 2011.

The board approved the settlement during an Oct. 19, 2011, meeting.

“RESOLVED, that the Irvington Board of Education hereby accepts the recommendation of the Superintendent and agrees to approve back pay for … Sal Gallegos pursuant to the Arbitration award. Pay is retroactive to the respective date of termination …” the meeting minutes said.

But now, 14 months after the settlement and eight months after the board okayed the back pay, Gallegos is still waiting for payment.

Along with the lengthy delay, Gallegos has been smacked with another problem.

“I knew I couldn’t collect a pension and be working,” he said, so he contacted the state to stop pension payments, and he asked about repaying what he had already received.

That would be $5,900.

But without the back pay, Gallegos doesn’t have the money to pay it back.

“(The state) said they’re going to tell Irvington to take it out of my paycheck,” he said. “I don’t care. I want to pay it back either way, but they keep on putting off and putting off the back pay.”

Gallegos says he’s a reasonable guy. He’d be willing to take payments from the board in chunks if it somehow can’t pay him in one full swoop. But he doesn’t think budgetary issues are the problem.

“They’re out there buying brand new trucks,” he said. “They’ve got money. They just don’t want to pay it.”

We reached out to Reggie Lamptey, head of the Irvington Board of Education, to ask why there was a such a prolonged holdup.

Half a dozen phone calls and e-mails were not returned.

Guess that means no comment.

Really? Gallegos is trying to do the right thing in repaying his pension, but he can’t. All because this board is seemingly ignoring an arbitrator’s ruling.

Gallegos continues to wait patiently.

“I just don’t understand why it’s taking so long,” he said.

Neither do we, Sal. Neither do we.

The weather is getting warmer, and homeowners are gearing up for fix-it season.

That also means it could be prime time for scamsters.

“History has shown us that this time of the year marks an upswing in home improvement activity,” said Jeff Lamm, spokesman for the Division of Consumer Affairs. “It’s also when we start to see more complaints related to home improvement contractors.”

Whether you want to redo a deck, paint your home, replace windows or fix up a crumbly driveway, the best way to get quality workmanship is to hire someone who has been used by your neighbors, friends or family members. Ask for recommendations.

But even if a contractor gets a glowing reference from your kid’s soccer coach or your Great Aunt Josie, you still have to do some legwork.

Start by asking the contractor for a copy of his or her license number. Also get information about the contractors’ liability insurance policy. Next, make sure the info you’ve been given is accurate.

License number in hand, call the Division of Consumer Affairs at (800) 242-5846 or look online at to make sure the contractor is properly registered. While you’re at it, ask the state if it has had legal actions against the contractor.

Then, call the contractor’s liability insurance company to ensure the policy is active.

Finally, check out the contractor with the Better Business Bureau at, or call (609) 588-0808.

Before you hire anyone, get at least three estimates for the job so you can comparison shop. And get it in writing.